How 7 Colorado developers learned to code — and what they wish they’d known before

March 30, 2016

Developers come to their craft through a number of ways, including being self-taught, going to a coding school or getting a university degree. But however they learned, and whichever stage of their careers they’re at, all developers have experienced some surprises.

We caught up with seven Colorado developers at different levels in their careers to see what they wish people had told them before they learned to code.

 

Ilana Corson,

How long have you been a developer?

I started as a student at Turing School of Software & Design in February. I wanted something more than I had to be able to say that I had a "skill." So Turing came after a few years of masters classes in Accounting and design classes.

How did you learn to code?

Turing is my first experience with coding. I am learning something new everyday. This is the most intriguing challenge that I have ever undertaken.

Why did you choose this career?

I attended a

session about women who code, and there were three women featured, two of whom went or were going to Turing. I was always interested in the tech world, it just did not feel accessible.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

Get the f— over yourself. I didn't really think that was a thing for me, but I was incredibly wrong. For me, it means being able to ask questions and admit when I have no clue what I am doing.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

The culture of programmers is so much different than I expected. People are incredibly helpful and supportive and want you to succeed. It is not as antisocial as I ignorantly believed.

What's been the worst surprise in your career?

The percentage of minorities in tech is low. On the upside to that though, I have seen a real effort not only on the part of my school, but also in speaking with potential employers. I think I have also realized that the struggle might always be real, whatever that means.


Travis Haby,

How long have you been a developer?

I have been a developer since the end of January, when I graduated from a software development school here in Denver. I started working at Guild Education the following week.

How did you learn to code?

I attended the Turing School, where I learned how to build web applications in Ruby/Rails and JavaScript. With the exception of a little minor pre-work that was assigned by Turing, I had effectively no experience with software development before attending. I credit Turing's high academic expectations, quality instruction, and the long hours I put in learning with getting me where I am today.

Why did you choose this career?

Before attending Turing, I was a middle school math teacher. At the end of the last school year, I had finished my 5th year of teaching, and was interested in pursuing a career that used my brain in a different way. Teaching was both challenging and rewarding, but the types of challenges I encountered weren't the same sort of logic-based problem solving you encounter when building web apps. I rediscovered that I really enjoy using my brain in this way, so changing my career to software development was really appealing.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

You can never know all the things! There's such a ridiculous number of languages, frameworks, and generally new technologies being created all the time in software development. The idea that you'll be able to master them all isn't fair to yourself: in my opinion a growth-mindset focused on both getting better at what you already know and learning something new on a daily basis is hugely important for feeling successful and rejecting thoughts of self-doubt.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

There's always something new to learn. Especially as a new developer, almost every day I get to tackle something I've never done before and learn something new in the process. As someone who likes problem solving and delving into the unknown, it's pretty amazing that I get paid to learn things and build stuff all day.

What's been the worst surprise in your career?

I had this grand idea that everyone knew exactly what they were doing all the time, and had all these technologies memorized to the single line of code. Hopefully I'm not divulging too much of a trade secret here, but I think ~20-30% of software development is Googling that thing you know exists but forgot exactly how to do.

 

Alex Weltman,

How long have you been a developer?

My first coding gig started freshman year of college and lasted all four years. I worked in a glaciology research lab writing MATLAB and Python scripts to analyze aerial imagery of glaciers. During that time, I also spent a summer interning at

. My last semester of college, I interned at LogRhythm, and then came on full time when I graduated in May 2014. So that puts me at two years as a professional software developer and four years as a research assistant or intern — six years total.

Why did you choose this career?

When I applied to CU my senior year of high school, I put Computer Engineering as my major. However, I soon realized that I was enjoying my high school computer science class more than any other class I was taking. So, on my first day of college, I went to the Computer Engineering office and changed my major to Computer Science. I’ll never forget the how the secretary shook her head and told me I was making a huge mistake.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

The faster you are at Vim, the better your life will be. Don’t use a fancy IDE until you’ve mastered an old school IDE.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

I’ve learned more in two years here than I did in four years of college. Working as a developer is kind of like going to class 40 hours a week, with all of your professors working on your homework with you.

What's been the worst surprise in your career?

All the group project experience I got in college was working on tiny projects that we built from scratch. It’s extremely overwhelming to start working on a codebase that’s existed for many years, consists of several git repos and thousands of lines of code. It takes a long time to learn how to learn a new code-base — it’s simply something they don’t teach in school.

 

Joanne Cheng, Keen IO

How long have you been a developer?

I’ve been working as a developer for about eight years.

How did you learn to code?

It was sort of a mix of sources. I took a programming course in high school. I didn’t major in it but I took a lot of computer science courses in college, and I taught myself. I basically used books and other people’s code to teach myself.

Why did you choose this career path?

At first I fought against it. I didn’t think I wanted to become a developer. I liked coding but didn’t think I’d enjoy being in an office. But ultimately, I chose it because I enjoy solving problems every day and building something.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

There is a lot to learn and you can’t learn everything in a short amount of time. It takes a lot of time to learn what you need to know. It’s a different way of thinking so it might take a little time to get used to.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

I always thought coding was this really stuffy and boring job, but nobody really fits the stereotypes. I’ve been really lucky to work with passionate and fun people who like working on teams and contributing to something who are from different background and walks of life. I’ve discovered there’s a huge community of people doing really creative stuff with art and code.

What's been the worst surprise in your career?

Unconscious bias. People have a very specific idea of what a developer looks like — it’s been a major bummer.

 

Andy Ennamorato,

How long have you been a developer?

I graduated with a computer science degree in 2001, so I’ve got approximately 15 years as a "professional." I tinkered with computers and programming as a kid, trying to learn how to "hack" an old MS-DOS/QBasic game called Gorillas. It wasn't until a high school class — that taught Pascal, believe it or not — when I got a little more serious about it.

How did you learn to code?

I was fortunate enough to have a father who was an electrical engineer so we always had an electronic gadget or computer in the house. Between his help, my own exploration and reading and that Pascal class, I was at least a little prepared for computer science classes in college, which started with C/C++. I'm still learning how to code (well.)

Why did you choose this career?

I really wanted to get into gaming and making computer games, and it was easy to translate my interest in games into programming. Choosing computer science was in large part directed by my parents but natural at the same time.

I was also really interested in sports journalism. While interning at a sports business magazine, I talked with a writer I admired (he used to call Nolan Ryan and Bud Selig from his desk, which blew my mind.) When he learned I was studying computer science, he said, "Then what are you doing here? You can't make any money doing this and it's going to be low paid and hard work for at least a decade. Go back to computers." I think that was the nail in that coffin.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

There's so many things to learn and keep learning, be it about people and organizations, or code, or technology choices — the learning never ends. That will often keep you up at night and can be hard to turn off.

Everything old will be new again, so look around to see how other problems have been solved that are similar to your situation. Don't get too worked up over any one language or technology because it will evolve. What you’re building is likely ephemeral — code is often thrown away or rewritten after a user gets their hands on it.

I really wish someone had told me to read The Pragmatic Programmer, but to be fair that wasn't written until 1999.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

That people are as important as computers when it comes to programming. Communication, people, and relationships are just as important as the programming language we use or the technology choices we make.

One more I must add is that everything is broken. Not in a pessimistic sense, but the idea that there will always be a problem that isn't quite solved, a better way to do things or bugs that creep up in unexpected ways; as long as humans are writing code we'll always break things.

What's been the worst surprise in your career?

I have been sadly surprised that as a programming profession, we are terrible at being inclusive and having a diverse community. We will benefit from more points of view and opinions from people of all backgrounds, and I am encouraged by efforts to improve this — be it codes of conduct, groups like Black Girls Code, Women Who Code or Girl Develop It! It's a good reminder I need to do more to support such efforts.

I've also been surprised at the lack of mentoring. A lot of materials exist for learning the basics or advanced topics for experienced programmers, but what's missing is the piece in the middle: how does a beginner become an expert? We need to get better at connecting someone with basic knowledge to an expert for mentorship and making sure there is time and space to learn and grow.

 

Peter Piper,

How long have you been a developer?

I have worked in the development space since 2000. I have dabbled and produced various static HTML pages in the late 1990s.

How did you learn to code?

I have been fortunate to “learn how to learn” after attending Shimer College, a.k.a. “the worst school of America.” Perspective, context, translation, grit and a ton of luck are key elements that enabled me to work in software development. I learned most of my technical and non-technical “chops” on the job at ASNA. Lastly, my learning never ends and there are many resources that I find are invaluable.

Why did you choose this career?

I originally had planned to go in other directions like architecture or education. I worked in the various industries while going to college and found that the continuous evolution found in IT satisfies my need to learn and create. I love the challenges that IT has provided me.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

I wish someone had told me there isn’t enough time to learn it all. Focus on core fundamentals while retaining humility. Learning how to code is a small aspect of software development. Honor your craft, mentors and peers to be successful.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

Learning new frameworks quickly and creating software that solves complex business problems while under extreme pressure.

 

Steven Neely,

How long have you been a developer?

18 years.

How did you learn to code?

On a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Copying BASIC code out of gaming magazines. Then picked up Pascal at high school.

Why did you choose this career?

I originally enrolled as a biology major at Glasgow University, Scotland. On an exchange year at UC Berkeley I took a load of CS classes and was hooked.

What do you wish people had told you before you learned to code?

That writing code is more than just creating a working solution. There is an advanced level of craftsmanship and artistry to writing software.

What's been the most positive surprise in your career?

Discovering Rally Software [now CA Technologies] and being hired there. I've been fortunate enough to work with amazingly talented people who have helped me learn and grow my professional career. From crafting lines of code to organizing work to managing teams and scaling legacy web applications.

What's been the worst surprise in your career?

The expense of working with technical debt and legacy code. Removing old libraries, refactoring spaghetti code, and modernizing can take huge amounts of time.

 

Note: answers have been edited for clarity and length. All photos provided by each individual.

What do you wish someone had told you before you learned to code? Let us know on Twitter: @builtincolorado.

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